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The Backyard Bee Hive is on Etsy!

February 09, 2016

I Wish Someone Woulda Told Me BEFORE I Started Beekeeping… #2 and #3

#2 Beekeeping takes up a lot of space.

The beehive pictured in my last post is empty and needs to be stored somewhere. It's a Warré hive, which has a smaller footprint than a Langstroth, which has a smaller footprint than a horizontal Top Bar Hive. My TBH is already parked on the patio (under a foot of snow) so think, think, think. But you're not storing your hive, are you?

I wish someone woulda told me when I was just getting started, to forget about the footprint of a hive, to think about airspace. A backyard gets real small when thousands of sting-capable bees are flying. If you've got a birdbath or a water feature in your garden, those are theirs now. There'll be a constant flow of traffic to and from, so the air in-between is theirs, too. The flight path'll be right about eye level, which makes mowing the lawn interesting. If you've got not one, but two hives, double your trouble. At some point, you might have someone offer to host your second hive on their property. They'll tell you they have a nice suburban lot with the perfect corner for a beehive, and they really want to help #savethebees but they just don't have the time with their toddler and the dog. Yep, people really think you can stick a beehive in the corner and nobody's gonna notice. It's #GoodToKnow that in the case of a stinging incident – and bees will chase you unprovoked – suddenly that 6 ft fence that you are so happy to have because it meets the zoning ordinance to keep bees, will seem a problem.

Airspace isn't the only consideration. Think about where you'll store your stuff, like a noncollapsible i.e., bulky, veil or propolis-y gloves, sticky hive tool, stinky smoker, extra used top bars that have a waxy/honey-y strip on them… Got lots of plastic bins that ants can't get into? Will they stack? Need shelves? Everyone's got a basement, garage or shed, right? What about the stuff you don't want to store in a dark spidery place? Like the candles you'll make.

#3 Beekeeping creates a lot of side projects

Many people think that a beehive produces honey, and that's it. SO wrong. In a good year, a hive does make surplus honey but there aren't a lot of good years when you're in a drought. Beginning beekeepers might be lucky if their bees put up enough honey to make it through their first Winter. What new beekeepers might find themselves with a lot of, particularly TBH beekeepers, is wax. Even with a deadout, you end up with wax from combs that you didn't have a place to store but couldn't leave in the empty hive because without bees the wax moths would come and destroy it. I'll tell you why I said "new" beekeepers in a bit, but phew that was a mouthful.

If you lean towards "sustainability," you might have this problem. I have a "crafting" drawer which is fully dedicated to all things beeswax. Chunks of raw unfiltered beeswax, beeswax in pellet form, beeswax in blocks. Then there are candle molds, wicks, wick tabs/pins and actual candles. There's also a selection of random containers for lip balms, salves and lotions, all of which I make using beeswax. Propolis tincture is another "product of the hive" that I make, so there are dropper bottles for that, too. I never planned on making all these things, but I was raised by a waste-not want-not mom, so there you have it. Problem is, now I've got shelves full of equipment and drawers full of supplies, and ultimately the reality is waste-not have-no-space-or-money-left. We're getting ready to downsize to a townhouse, and I've no idea what to do with the honey jars I won in a "Honeybee Photo Contest" — oh yeah, you'll get into photography, too. You won't just take photos of honeybees, there'll be photos of metallic green bees, long-horned bees, leafcutter bees… all on flowers. Lots and lots of flowers. You'll even go to the nursery, just to see what flowers they like. And of course you'll come home with any that a bee chose to alight upon. Anyway, I tried to give the jars away, but you know what? Beekeepers are a weird lot. You'd think that offering four cases of super cute, skep-shaped jars FREE would be met with an enthusiastic, "Yes, I'd love them. Thanks!" But, no, they prefer mason jars, which brings me to #GoodToKnow #4: The Mason Jar Philosophy.

January 29, 2016

8 Things I Wish Someone Would've Told Me 8 Years Ago: #1

Ever find yourself saying, "Well THAT would've been good to know before I __FILL IN THE BLANK__"? Even though I did a ton of research first, I would've done things differently if only I'd known these eight things.

#1 Beekeeping is expensive.

Seriously. Think about it. You either buy it or build it. You will spend hundreds of dollars on either premade equipment or on tools just to get started. If you don't mind the risk of AFB (the cure for which is burning down the hive) then by all means, pick up a used hive.

I opted to start with brand new. The Warré hive pictured is a prebuilt windowed hive, accessorized with an extra hive body. Most starter kits are 2-boxes, which is simply not big enough for a full-sized colony. Other items we purchased include a propolis screen and hive top feeder. Then polyurethane to make the feeder usable. Then special glue to repair the leaking feeder because (apparently) we didn't apply enough urethane. With veils, gloves, hive tool and a smoker, the total came to about $500 without any bees.

Our first occupants were from a swarm that issued from our Top Bar Hive so they were free. But the colony had to be coddled through their first winter, which meant building a feeder rim (a borrowed table saw and that $11 bottle of glue came in handy), making fondant and buying pollen patties. We're up to $575 now.

The little colony made it into Spring and quadrupled. By quadrupled, I mean the colony swarmed three times, and unfortunately none of the colonies made it through the year. Before kicking the bucket, though, they had a good honey-making season so we bought a cheese cutting wire to separate boxes in order to insert our vortex escape (built not bought), and some super cute honey jars (kaching!). The whole family got honey and one jar even shipped out of state to win a honey tasting contest. At the end that year of beekeeping, we'd spent over $600 yet again had no bees. I hope the family realizes that the honey I sent them cost me about $25 each.

A package of bees to get started again runs about $125 so, amortized, a second honey crop works out to about $18/lb. Better, but I pay less than that for grass-fed beef. I've got the rest of winter to, as Pooh would say, "Think. Think. Think," about ways to restart on-the-cheap. Until then, I need to find a place to store all my beekeeping stuff.

Which brings me to #2 on the list, Beekeeping takes up a lot of space.